How do you define helpful?

October 21, 2014

Some people graciously offer their time and energy to help those in need.  Others lend their support while some go into fix-it mode with the hopes of resolving the issue.  This gesture, as well intended as it might be, is not always helpful and can sometimes contribute to the perpetuation and longevity of the problem. 

When such situations occur, I become curious about the person in need and the related details.  Could this problem have been avoided?  Is it an isolated issue or part of an ongoing pattern?  Does the individual plan on addressing this challenge head on or by soliciting help from others?  Is the problem being ignored altogether with the hope or assumption that someone else will take the initiative of resolving the situation? 

I am also curious about the person offering the help.  Is he or she rescuing someone or simply lending support during a challenging time?  Is the willingness to help communicated or is it initiated without consultation?  Is help even wanted?  Would it be offered if the person in need had the capability of resolving this by him or herself? 

If the dynamic of someone being in a position of need and another being available to provide help repeats itself, it can evolve into a pattern where, over time, each person takes on the characteristics of these respective roles.  This can be observed in families, religious organizations, the workplace, etc.  Though the scenarios may be different, the pattern is the same.  

Take a father and son pattern, for example, where the father takes it upon himself to ensure that his teenage son’s homework is always completed while the son only does his work when reminded by his father.  Unless one or both decide to alter the way in which they participate in this pattern, it will continue.  Should the father no longer remind his son about his homework, the onus will shift to his son.  The son will then have a greater opportunity of independently managing his responsibilities while the father will have, in my opinion, helped his son more than if he continued to oversee his daily assignments. 

The question as I see it is, “What does it mean to be helpful?”  There are no right or wrong answers but perhaps some are better than others.  Deciding whether or not you want to help someone in need is a personal decision and one that is best made by thinking first rather than automatically responding.  When doing this, people are more likely to have a clearer understanding as to how it is that they can be most helpful in any situation.